Under Saddam Hussein, Iraq proved a distinctly more secular Islamic state than neighboring Iran, and something different again than Saudi Arabia. Although freedom of religion and equal rights for women seem to contradict Islam, it’s also true that Muslims living in Western democracies have adjusted.
Pipes’ ambivalenceis noteworthy, given that he strongly advocated the invasion of Iraq in the first place. Mixed feelings resonate from all political perspectives, including that of Rutgers political-science professor Roy Licklider, who opposed the Iraq war: “There was no reason you couldn’t deter Saddam — as we had for 30 years quite successfully. And I was very much concerned about what was going to happen afterward.”
Now that the U.S. is stuck in “afterward,” Licklider opposes a quick exit, based on his research into nation-building and civil wars in world hotspots. The interim constitution leaves plenty of room for dissolution, he said, with a weak central government that mandates powerful regional authority and gives individual factions potentially paralyzing veto power. And while the document talks of disarming unauthorized militias, it doesn’t say who gets to keep their guns or spell out a process for taking them away from everyone else.
“That’s a real problem,” said Licklider, “because if you’re going to have a central government, you have to eventually disarm the individual militias and transfer power to the center. But nobody wants to do that, because they’re afraid of the consequences, and history suggests that they are correct to be afraid.
“The track record on power sharing is mixed,” he added. “A current example is Bosnia, which has the three major ethnic groups with their own area. You have a very weak central government because nobody trusts anybody else. It holds together because you’ve got NATO troops there, apparently indefinitely. I don’t think the Iraqis would stand for that. So the question is: Can you establish a system that will be functional in a fairly short period of time?
“Obviously, President Bush would like to get out of this — or say he’s gotten out of this with a straight face — before the election in November. And it’s also true that the Iraqis want us out very badly.”
The hand-over, scheduled for the end of June, seems timed to let Bush show voters that he can escape Iraq, without leaving enough space before the November election for everything to fall to pieces.
The young United States grew out of an analogous experience after the American Revolution, when delegates insisted on the weak, state-dominated Articles of Confederation. That system proved unworkable, compelling the country’s leaders to adopt the permanent Constitution in 1787. But that peaceful transition was not made under the auspices of an occupying power. And in Iraq, this occupying power is both widely disliked and anxious to depart. But the U.S. also seems indispensable, because it’s providing military might and money — $150 billion and counting.
Two particular problems stand in the way of a permanent, workable constitution, said Licklider. “One is: What kind of constitution can you get people to agree on? And two: What are the chances of having it become something other than a piece of paper?”
He added: “The whole idea of using Iraq as a springboard to create democracy, to change the Middle East, is at one level a wonderfully inspiring idea, but it’s also an enormous gamble. And I worry that there’s not a Plan B. I just don’t quite see what our government thinks it’s going to do if all this doesn’t work.”